Please join the Forum on Contemporary Europe for a first assessment of the September 27 German elections by FSI Senior Fellow Josef Joffe.
Josef Joffe is publisher-editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, and was previously columnist/editorial page editor of Sddeutsche Zeitung (1985-2000). Abroad, his essays and reviews have appeared in: New York Review of Books, New York Times Book Review, Times Literary Supplement, Commentary, New York Times Magazine, New Republic, Weekly Standard, Prospect (London), Commentaire (Paris). Regular contributor to the op-ed pages of Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post; Time and Newsweek. In 2005, he co-founded the foreign policy journal "The American Interest" in Washington (with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Francis Fukuyama).
His most recent book is Überpower: America's Imperial Temptation (2006, translated into German and French). His articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, International Security, The American Interest and Foreign Policy as well as in professional journals in Germany, Britain and France. He is the author of The Limited Partnership: Europe, the United States and the Burdens of Alliance, The Future of International Politics: The Great Powers; co-author of Eroding Empire: Western Relations With Eastern Europe.
As Professor Joffe describes, political scientists predicting the outcome of the recent German elections based on economic factors were surprised by the victory of the Center Right, expecting a "Red-Red-Green" (Social Democrats-Left-Green Party) coalition instead of Merkel's "Black-Yellow" (Christian Democrats and Free Democrat) coalition party. He sees the outcome more as a loss for the Social Democrats, Lefts, and Greens - who should have done better in tough economic times, and capitalized on left-leaning ideology in Germany - than as a decisive victory for the winners. He disagrees with the New York Times' declaration of a "mandate for change" in Germany for several reasons:
- The proportional representation party system based on coalitions rather than majorities makes it impossible to enact wholesale change
- The "stalemate system" features too many centers of power and makes change difficult
- Germans like these features of their political system too much to change them
Professor Joffe asserts that the outcome of the elections is a good one for Germany. A victory by the "Red-Red-Green" coalition would have brought about years of instability under a grand coalition that would be characterized by high taxes and spending, pacifism, and the status quo, and which would soon have broken down. In the coming years, Joffe predicts a medium-term exit of German troops from Afghanistan, resistance of US calls for more troops in the Middle East, a pro-Israel stance, and little to no change in domestic policy. He believes there should be greater focus on preventing the collapse of social support programs, but admits this does not fit into the electoral cycle of domestic politics and will likely be overlooked.
In conclusion, Joffe views the election outcome as the best possible one given alternatives, and as a message to Angela Merkel that Germans are realistic and want German politicians to be less timid.
A discussion session following the talk addressed such issues as: Will Germany revise its position toward Turkey's EU integration under Merkel's leadership? Will the election outcome affect the competitive position of German business? How are rising debt levels in Europe felt by Germany? How do the German people feel about their economic situation and competitiveness?